Lewisham refugee cafe close to finding home after fundraiser

Food and cooking to bring a community together
Pic: Iolanda Chrirco

A campaign to raise money for a permanent home for a community cafe for refugees in Lewisham is close to its target of £35,000 after five weeks of online fundraising.

The refugee café has already been operating for over a year from the founder’s, Iolanda Chirico’s, kitchen but the organisation is looking for a location that allows the café to become a “community hub” for refugees in the area. 

Chirico told ELL: “There are many limitations from cooking from a domestic kitchen. We have only been able to prepare products in jars and not for meals for events which require big workspace, a cooker with many rings.”

On the Refugee Café website it states the five main benefits of expanding the café by having a permanent home. The website states that the refugee café will:

  • Create living wage employment for a team of refugee chefs
  • Provide food-and-work skills training to support refugees into Hospitality jobs
  • Boost the economy by investing 100% of profits into our charity mission
  • Celebrate food cultures in Lewisham with a healthy exciting menu
  • Rejuvenate our borough through by hosting community events, workshops and feasts

As well as working as a commercial café that serves the public it will also work as a community centre which will exhibit local refugee art, offer a place of safe employment and employees will receive 8 weeks of training for a “Introduction to the UK Catering Industry” course. 

The café will be offering an array of delicious delicacies from all around the world including Iran, Syria, Sri-Lanka, Vietnam and Ecuador.

An array of dishes from across the world will be served
Pic: Iolanda Chrirco

The Refugee café works in collaboration with various other community groups such as Lewisham Multilingual Advice Service, The Syrian resettlement programme and Create Art without Borders.

When asked about the inspiration behind the fundraiser Chirico told ELL: “Everybody likes good food and food is a universal passion. It’s comforting, social, enriching, joyous. Cooking and eating together breaks down barriers and builds understanding between local people and migrant communities.”

The fundraiser has managed to rack up £28,458 of their £35,000 goal and 379 supports during the process. The support from the local community has been strong, the messages and donations have “provided a big boost” according to the cafe, and everyone is said to be looking forward to the opening. 

Chirico and his team will be sitting down with the Lewisham Mayor, Damien Egan on June 23 to discuss possibly letting them use a free venue for their first year of operation. 

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